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Hail to the roundabout, an old idea new to Mac

Does the prospect of navigating one of McMinnville’s new Hill Road roundabouts fill you with dread?

Then you’d be best-advised to avoid one of Oregon’s top tourist destinations. The city of Bend features more than 30 of them.

You might also want to avoid Paris, as France features more than 30,000 roundabouts, and London, as the U.K. standardized the modern roundabout in the 1960s and features even more per road mile than its cross-channel neighbor.

Contrary to popular belief, the circular junction is not a flight of modern engineering fantasy.

The city of Bath introduced the concept to merry old England in 1768, as a way to better control the flow of horse-drawn traffic. The city of Goerlitz developed Germany’s first roundabout in 1899, just 14 years after Karl Benz unveiled the father of today’s Mercedes-Benz in Mannheim. And Paris opened its first roundabout in 1907, to circle traffic around the Arc de Triomphe.

Lest you think the U.S. has gotten left behind, 1907 was also the year of the American roundabout’s debut in San Jose. However, the idea caught on much quicker in England, France, Germany, Spain, Holland, Belgium, Poland, Hungary — even Macedonia — than the U.S.

In the U.S., traffic flows to the right, in a counterclockwise direction. You take the first exit to turn right, second to go straight and third to turn left. It’s just the opposite in left-hand drive lands.

So what’s the appeal?

Roundabouts move much more traffic through much more quickly than conventional intersections controlled by traffic signals. Single-lane roundabouts like the ones just opened on Hill Road are capable of handling up to 25,000 cars a day without clogging.

In addition:

Roundabouts drastically reduce the frequency and severity of collisions, and thus of both motorist and pedestrian injuries. That’s because they reduce speeds, contact points and left turns across traffic.

By reducing idling, they cut fuel consumption and air pollution. They cost about the same as a conventional intersection, but are significantly cheaper to maintain. And they are capable of handling foot, bike, truck, train, bus and tram traffic in addition to automobile traffic.

What’s more, they permit safe, smooth U-turns. You simply take the fourth exit, completing the circle.

When the concept is introduced to a new community, sentiment typically runs 2-1 against initially, but reverses to 2-1 in favor within two or three years. Here’s hoping that will prove true here, as there’s lots to like, including a 90 percent reduction in fatalities. 

 

Comments

Sally G

I already like our new Roundabout on Baker Creek & Hill! It's attractive and smooth driving. Do we know what kind of landscaping will be added to the middle of the circle?